Sometimes just the right ideas collide at just the right time to create something amazing, wonderful, and mind-blowing.
Okay. This wasn’t quite all that, but after watching many episodes of “Chef’s Table” recently, I was pretty inspired to create some dishes, and a full dinner in fact, to rival those Michelin star earning chefs… or at least fall short in an almost full mockery way…
I don’t know if it’s because it was a weekend, but when I said I had been watching a lot of “Chef’s Table” recently, I mean it. They are long detailed episodes and I watched several on Saturday alone. Have you ever seen a great inspirational sports movie? The kind where the underdog starts working out really hard, there’s a bunch of sweat, the song builds and builds, the main character is pumped, the crowd is pumped, small children are running behind, there’s slow motion… Yeah, well that has been “Chef’s Table” for me recently.
They start off slow, telling the beginning of each chef’s story, slowly building up over the hour to where they are in their current successful state. Only, instead of a last minute shot right before the buzzer, the grand finale culminates giving fast moving glimpses of beautiful dishes with intense music that has been building and building, and BAM into the credits with this power music still playing leaving one to say to themselves, “I can do that! I WANT to do that!”
Okay. Now you know were I was Saturday afternoon when I hit the grocery store. (Try not to envision me doing the Rocky Balboa neighborhood run and ending with epic fist pumping at Fred Meyer’s front doors.)
I had several ideas in mind. First, for some reason, I wanted to take a classic commonly used health food and serve it more interestingly; butternut squash. I get so tired of seeing it served either as soup or cubed into a salad or grain dish. I wanted to do something different. So I came up with the idea of “squash chips three ways”: crisped, pickled, and smoked with a hard candy shell.
I figured this would serve as a very nice appetizer so I then moved on to a main dish. Planning to have Nathan help, in fact that was a lot of the motivation altogether, I thought that bacon wrapped fillets would be really fun to make and of-course really tasty. Yeah, I don’t have the budget for fillets, so I picked up a package of evenly cut, wide chunks of flank steak.
Now enter the ‘snooty’ part. I needed a vegetable on my dish but was certainly not going to serve generic mixed veggies. I really wanted to make a plate where the vegetables were poking off sticks or nails or something coming out of the plate. Something non traditional for plating. Artsy-fartsy-like. Grilled grape tomatoes! They would look nice blistered and be easy to skewer.
And lastly, for a grain I went with a simple store bought garlic mini loaf, but I picked up a package of fresh mixed herbs to be added to heavy whipping cream so Nathan could learn how to shake cream into butter.
I also grabbed some pepitas (not to be mistaken with papitos in a Google image search!) to toast for some crunch on our otherwise simple plate.
~This is the part where I pause to thank the workers of the Fred Meyer grocery and health food departments for all their help and hard work. I thank Mike the Produce Guy, (even though he forgot about me this time! *wink*wink*) and Alex who picked up his slack. I also thank Maria who I seem to see every single day. Everyone has been working very hard to get their departments organized with the new set-up, and I know it’s been a zoo. Your areas look beautiful, your foods are delicious, and your smiles are always appreciated.~
Alright. I had the foods covered. Now about plating. This is where the ‘fancy-shmancy’ part comes in. I wanted to do something different. An entirely different dish. And not ‘dish’ as in recipe or foods on the plate. I mean I wanted to make an actual new plate/dish itself.
In watching “Chef’s Table,” I particularly liked some of the ways Dan Barber, of Blue Hill NY, presented his foods; simple, precise, and creatively. The idea being to let the flavors of these natural foods speak for themselves. I love to see natural elements in plating; boards and sticks, rocks, and even metal elements. I love three dimensional plates where things stick-up, stack-up, hang, or wind around.
My original plan for plating was a simple plank with a shallow elongated bowl sanded out for the protein portion, and long nails parallel for the vegetables to be skewered or strewn across. “Lowe’s, here I come!”
It didn’t take me long to find the wood I wanted to use; a pre-cut 2 foot piece of 1 inch thick poplar. Then, thanks to the help of a couple nice employees and free cutting service I was able to walk out with two planks ready to be made into plates.
~And, “Yes, Chuck and Donovan, I agree, ‘Semiserious Chefs’ definitely sounds better than ‘Semiserious Sushi’!” Thanks for your help.~
Now, this is the part of the story where I want to tell you that everything went off without a hitch. In some ways it did. I was able to make my dish/plate. It doesn’t quite look like I had planned, but in reality I didn’t have the tools or the time to make a nice round, sanded, bowl area. So using a chisel instead, I am quite happy with my creation. I also opted to go a more natural route for ‘sticking’ my tomatoes on the plate… Yup. A stick.
Nathan was helpful about making butter. He picked out his own herb choices, and we also made whipped cream using some vanilla sugar I’ve been aging for about 18 months now. In making butter I learned that the salt needs to be added at the beginning of the churning process. Although the butter turned out great, adding more salt part way through our shaking separated off some of the liquid. Would that make it clarified butter? It looked a little like cheese, but still tasted, spread, and melted like butter… so I called it good.
Nathan was not helpful, (or interested) in helping to cut or roll the bacon wrapped beef. I was surprised! I figured he would think it was fun! I figured out later that it appears Daddy, with his [crazy] rules about sanitary practice, has instilled a fear of raw meat in Nathan.
With the squash sliced, the oil heated, the quick pickle going, and sugar for candying on stand-by, Nathan was ready to start the grill. He did fantastic! He knew where to put the coals and added just the right amount. He used the lighter fluid or as he calls it “peroxide,” to “get the coals all wet,” closed it and moved it out of ignition reach. He even used matches to get it lit, “just like Daddy does.” I was very proud.
As you can imagine, we’ve been ‘at’ this meal for a while by this time. I was able to finish up The Squash Three Ways, but then we had to stop for treatment.
*Ghhhuujjjjuuuuuuuuuuuuu* <—— Compressor for Palmozyme
Fast forward an hour….
Dad has gotten the coals good and hot again, it’s 6:30 and time to grill. Beautiful! The meat turns out great. The tomatoes are nice and smokey and my stick works out beautifully for plating. I’d say this meal is a success!!!! wait…
At the last minute I realized that we had forgotten to toast the pepitas. Nathan sprays the seeds and picks out a garlicky lemon seasoning to sprinkle on top. As the meat finishes baking, the pepitas toast… NOW I’d say this meal is a success!!
Well mostly. The squash chips are fantastic, but if I’m honest, the pickled squash was not very good. The smoked squash was also good, but ended up being too soft to dip in the candied sugar and had to get scrapped. Using raw squash works much better and it seemed that coating it in cornstarch helped the candy to stick, but by then the candy had cooked for too long and was a little over done… or burnt.
With that being said, though, I think we were very much, mostly successful with our little experimental kitchen day. The homemade butter and whipped cream were great. The fried squash chips as well. The bacon wrapped steak was delicious and on budget. Nathan loved the pepitas and I loved the tomatoes, and we have home made butter and whipped cream ready for use anytime.
Ah… now time to sit down and tell the world about it. This was a good day. I’m tired, but it was a good day.